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Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB


Abbot Peter NovecoskyThe zeal of converts

Christians are celebrating the solemnity of Easter, with its message of hope and new life. On the Prairies, we are celebrating spring, with its gift of new life, after a winter of cold and darkness. It’s a wonderful time of the year. Perhaps, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

However, our world is not going through a wonderful time in its history. In the past few years we have seen men and women who celebrate death, not life. The rise of ISIS, with its mission to kill and destroy, leaves many of us scratching our heads.

In his column this week, Gerry Chidiac of Prince George evaluates the causes of violent extremism. He suggests that people without hope are vulnerable targets for jihadists who offer them “the things no one else offered, things they craved: belonging, significance, purpose and acceptance.”

He says education is key to making young people aware of the dangers of such a lifestyle and the exploitation it involves.

Another analysis was carried in the April 1 issue of The Economist. It points out that converts to Islam are more likely to radicalize than native Muslims. It makes this telling statistic: “In Britain, converts make up less than 4 per cent of Muslims but 12 per cent of home-grown jihadists.”

The same holds true for other countries. About 20 per cent of American Muslims are converts from another religion, but 40 per cent of those arrested on suspicion of being IS recruits in 2015 were converts. In France, Germany and the Netherlands, converts are about four times as likely as lifelong Muslims to go to fight in Syria and Iraq.

What is the reason?

The Economist notes that surveys by John Horgan of Georgia State University show that Muslim converts seem more willing than native Muslims to radicalize. Some argue that this is because their “double marginalization,” by both bewildered non-Muslim friends and skeptical native Muslims, leaves them vulnerable to the overtures of radicals. According to defectors from IS, recruiters particularly prize new converts because they are harder for intelligence services to trace.

Others note that many conversions to Islam in the West occur in prison. Peter Neumann of King’s College London contends that jihad “has become a counter-culture — the most bad-ass way of going against society.”

Not all recruits fit a nice mould. Khalid Massod, who murdered four people outside the British Houses of Parliament, spent time in prison but was 52 years old. He was no youth. Nicholas Young, a Washington, D.C., transit-police officer who was arrested last year for supporting IS, was a Nazi sympathizer. Others arrested in America for IS-related activities range from a 15-year-old boy to a 47-year-old ex-soldier. Douglas McCain, an American convert killed while fighting in the countryside of Aleppo province, was once an aspiring rapper.

We are suspicious of immigrants who may be terrorists. But, we may be focusing on the wrong place. We should be looking into our own back yard to see what is alienating “regular” citizens from our culture and attracting them to one so foreign to Canadians.

Clearly, they are not having a wonderful life.